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In Time for SXSW, a Brief History of Austin's 'Don't Move Here' T-Shirts

An artist's rendering of the back of the Wannabes' 1997 t-shirt.

The story of Austin's various "Don’t Move Here" t-shirts is, in many ways, the story of Austin itself: the transformation of an undiscovered secret into something much bigger. 

While the "Don’t Move Here" meme certainly predates its first recorded t-shirt printing – not to mention the concept of a "meme" itself – modern history posits spring 1997 as the time it was first put to cotton.

It was then that Austin pop-rockers The Wannabes minted a batch of merch bearing the slogan.

As the Austin Chronicle noted that year, bestowing the accolade of Best Band Shirt upon the group:

Unveiled just in time for '97's SXSW, the yellow-and-black Wannabes shirt was as direct as you could want it: "Wannabes" and "Austin, Texas" on the front, and "Don't Move Here" on the back. What a lovely way to tell the assembled throng, "Thanks for visiting," with the emphasis on visiting.

A straightforward enough sentiment in response to both South by Southwest and – more broadly – Austin's burgeoning popularity, which was rapidly morphing from Richard Linklater's "Slacker" to MTV's "Austin Stories."

Fast-forward a few years to today: The Wannabes still play the occasional gig (last seen playing a memorial show for SXSW Music creative director Brent Grulke), but the "Don't Move Here" shirt is everywhere. Here is a $33.45 version. Here's a $20 t-shirt, as seen on the cover of Austin Monthly, which even ran a story on its "sassy" t-shirt.

Tees aren't your thing? Here is a $20 infographic poster with some numbers to back it up.

Similar to how "Keep Austin Weird" began life as an open source rallying cry, only to be trademarked by a t-shirt company, "Don't Move Here" isn't immune from a backlash: this thread on the Austin page of Reddit ponders whether "we've taken our narcissism about our city a little to far."

But t-shirt or not, it's a message that resonates. And at least its present day standard bearers offer some constructive criticism: Austin may be full up, but there's always Dallas.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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